The 99th final of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup had fireworks, excitement and after a long delay to start the game due to a thunderstorm with lightning, heavy rain, and hail, Livestrong Sporting Park finally got underway.
After a scoreless-but-fantastic first half with some hard tackles, long shots that hit woodwork and side netting it was easy to see that the goals were going to come in the second half. In the 83rd minute Kei Kamara of Sporting Kansas City converted a penalty as Patrick Ianni was called for handling the ball in the Seattle area.
But only a couple of minutes later, it would be Zach Scott uncovered on a corner kick who headed in the equalizer to force extra time. No one bothered to mark Scott as the corner was taken at the far side. Jimmy Nielsen froze on his line as Scott sent the ball just inside the far post.
That would force the two teams into an extra 30 minute period, and nothing was decided after the additional segment, though Ianni picked up his second yellow of the match in the final two minutes of extra time. Even with their brief man advantage, Sporting KC looked happy to see the game into the penalty shootout, and so that was the way the U.S. Open Cup was to be decided. Sporting KC would go first as they won the coin flip.
Kamara was first for Sporting and he knew he needed a different approach to beat Gspurning. He ripped a hard shot that still went into the net even after a partial deflection by Gspurning. Brad Evans then converted for the Sounders to level it at 1-1.
Roger Espinoza, just back from the London Olympic Games, went second and the exhausted midfielder shot the ball right at Gspurning. Marc Burch calmly converted for the Seattle for 2-1. But while Matt Besler scored for KC, Osvaldo Alonso couldn’t maintain Seattle’s advantage. Nielsen seemed to engage in some mind games with the Cuban-born midfielder, pointing straight out to Alonso’s left as if to say, “I know you’re shooting here.” The ploy worked as Alonso skied his penalty over the crossbar. Out of all the players on the Seattle Sounders to take a penalty in a shootout, Ozzie Alonso would be the last person I would think would miss the net.
Then more weirdness ensued. Graham Zusi tried to pull a cheeky penalty and he softly lifted the Panenka kick over the crossbar. You could feel the venom spit from the home crowd as Zusi walked back to the center line. But if you thought the Sounders would capitalize on that huge mistake, Nielsen stepped up and made a huge save on Christian Tiffert’s chance. That left the shootout even at 2 apiece.
A disputable call then came when Paulo Nagamura took his penalty. Gspurning stopped the shot, but referee Ricardo Salazar called a foul on Gspurning and declared a retake. Replays showed the Austrian keeper started a few inches off the goal line, and that seemed to be Salazar’s reason for the call. Nagamura converted on his second attempt to had KC a 3-2 lead.
Eddie Johnson came up to try and force extra rounds for the Sounders. Again, Nielsen tried to get in the head of his opponent, yelling at Johnson and pointing to the forward’s left. Just like Alonso, Johnson’s shot went well over the crossbar, and thus ended Seattle’s bid to become the first team to win 4 consecutive U.S. Open Cups.
Sporting Kansas City celebrated their first trophy since their last U.S. Open Cup victory back in 2004, and this result secures their place in the 2013-14 CONCACAF Champions League Group Stage. Ironically enough, they win the Cup named for their first owner and icon of the region, Lamar Hunt. It has been quite a turnaround for the franchise over the last few years. Their rebrand to Sporting KC, coupled with the opening of Livestrong Sporting Park, has given the franchise a new identity and spirit. They now have a trophy to display in their beautiful new home, and seem poised to challenge for MLS Cup come the fall.
While this match was exciting, you can’t help but think that certain calls could have gone either way. For the team in the Pacific Northwest, you have to applaud them for having a great magical run these last four seasons. Once again the real winners on this night was US Soccer, who enjoyed a fantastic ending to this season’s tournament, and I can’t wait for next year.